In recent weeks, Omar Al-Bashir, the controversial president of Sudan, has been the subject of protests over economic stagnation and socio-economic imbalances. Despite the October 2017 removal of US sanctions, Sudanese officials attribute the lack of economic rejuvenation to Sudan ’s categorization as a terrorist sponsor. While the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) stated a few hours before the speech that was televised by the government in February 22nd that Al-Bashir would step down, his presence is still felt as his loyal supporters populate many crucial positions in the government. This series of events reflects the African Union’s ongoing absence in the affairs of its own member countries, a lapse it ought to rectify. With failures in countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Republic of Congo, and Burundi, many have come to question the effectiveness and purpose of the African Union since its recent 32nd annual summit in February. With no US, NGO, or corporate aid in sight, the African Union must rise to the occasion and cement its legitimacy.
Al-Bashir is infamous for electoral fraud and for allegedly leading a counter-insurgency campaign into Darfur that killed thousands. These accusations have not only restricted his diplomatic options with international organizations and other countries, but also his capabilities to maneuver under political pressure. This has led to massive protests, to which Al-Bashir initially showed signs of sympathy to project a “positive image” as he desired to secure a loan from the IMF. Yet, due to the time lag, the IMF’s lack of trust for him and his sense of urgency, he has become desperate to improve the current state of his country by using excessive force to control the situation: Al-Bashir does not shy from using force to crush protesters and opposing figures. According to the Sudanese Constitution, during a state of emergency, all security and military forces can search homes without a warrant and arrest anyone they deem a threat. This law concerns the United Nations, which recognizes Sudan’s unfavorable human rights record and as of now, has not shown signs of a desire to intervene.
Even though President Al-Bashir is under pressure, his decision to step down symbolically and appoint Ahmed Harun as chairman of the National Congress Party reflects his insidious way of dealing with inherent issues. Such a gesture belies alarming decisions: In recent days Bashir has reshuffled a great amount of his cabinet: Bashir implanted Defence Minister General Awad Ibnoufas as Vice President and appointed the governor of Eastern Gezira, Mohamed Tahir Ayala, as Prime Minister. His influence still looms over the government, as the state of emergency continues and many newly-elected officials are close allies to Al-Bashir. It appears that such a decision was more of a gesture to calm the masses, rather than a critical juncture in the history of Sudan. To make matters worse, the World Bank estimates the unemployment rate to be 27 percent, reports highlight bread shortages, fuel hikes continue in the country, and workers are being laid off in the hundreds. Even banks are afraid of massive withdrawals and limits on such withdrawals that are as low as 500 Sudanese pounds ($17.12) per day. With inflation over 60 percent, and a reduction in lucrative exports like oil and gold, many are left pleading to the IMF and foreign banks for foreign investment; however, with Sudan still categorized as a state sponsoring terrorism, the rest of the world is not eager to conduct business in Sudan. With no one’s trust, it appears that the African Union needs to intervene and negotiate terms for Sudan to receiver relief aid.
As for the African Union, recent criticism has stemmed from its failure to stabilize situations not only in Sudan but also Zimbabwe, which is currently experiencing a sharp rise in the cost of living and saw security forces kill 12 protesters and arrest 600 citizens. Despite the African Union’s promise to act, it has only succeeded in creating the Peace and Security Council (PSC) and Continental Early Warning Systems (CEWS). The PCS framework appeared promising and drew inspiration from the UN Security Council to serve as a committee that enforced the decisions of the African Union; unfortunately, not much action has been taken, and there has been no official condemnation of the acts of Al-Bashir by the committee. As for the CEWS, there isn’t much solvency just the treatment of the “symptoms” of unstable areas. The inherent criticism for the union and its committees is that it does not address the underlying root of these problems, which is a disregard for human rights and impunity. Furthermore, the African Union has issued no official condemnation of government violence against protestors or spoken out about recent atrocities in other countries, like in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 20,000 individuals were forced into exile for not accepting manipulated election results. This pattern of promises without enforcement of rules or policies is, unfortunately, an ongoing one. Since most protesters are subjected to torture when they are apprehended in Sudan, this mass violation of international law can serve as justification for intervention by the African Union. The Executive Council and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights would need to condemn such actions and bring the current leaders of the Sudanese government to the negotiating table. The African Union is seemingly the last bridge the Sudanese government has left unburned, leaving it as the only option.
While the UN has still not taken serious action, representatives are concerned about the exacerbation of the situation of Darfur, as the impacts are still not calculable with the ongoing state of emergency. The African Union needs to intervene to mediate discourse, as meetings in the UN reflect the looming political interests of current and burgeoning global superpowers like the United States, Russia, and China. The UN security council has been mired in discussions over the presence of foreign countries within Darfur, just recently voting to drastically reduce the presence of UN-sponsored militia protecting the region. Representatives of Russia and Sudan have halted further discussion of Darfur. With a political vacuum possibly on the horizon, many analysts are concerned about the effects of Russian and Chinese presence. Both Russia and China have sold arms in Sudan since the beginning of the century, and the Chinese have dominated oil projects in the region since the early 2000s. In order to ensure foreign powers do not subjugate the country for their own interests, the African Union must be the entity that conducts discussions, meetings, peace talks and planning for future economic decisions for the country during the state of emergency. If they do not intervene, then it’s foreseeable that Sudan will be subject to the whims of a country seeking to expand its global influence.
The resilience of the people of Sudan is undoubtedly remarkable. Unfortunately, the economic and social turmoil exacerbated by the Sudanese government overshadows that. An impetus for positive reform must come from the African Union, as it finally signals its strength, proves its legitimacy, and takes matters in its own hands. Though many countries face dire situations much like Sudan’s, uncertainty as to how the situation will develop makes the African Union’s intervention more necessary than ever.
Photo: “Al-Bashir protests“